A DARK BLUE FLAG with squared Greek zigzags in white snapped overhead as the cutter chopped the waves. Nobody was talking, wouldn’t even let the media gal trot out her credentials. The only thing they’d made clear was that Mitchell and Ms. Conreid were now “guests” of the Mediterranean League.
Peter leaned against the stern rail next to the 12-millimeter machine gun and a sailor keeping an eye on him. There was another 12-mm up forward alongside the five-inch gun for lobbing shells, and the twin diesels were supplemented with a pumpjet engine for speed. Poor old Nereid, bobbing and wallowing on the tow line, hadn’t stood a chance. He’d have to do some fast talking this time.
Etse k’etse. They were damn lucky it was a Med League patrol hauling in their catch, not the Sons. And it looked they were following the same course Conreid had paid for, to the Demodakis home base on Thia Nea. The engines hummed down as they cut speed approaching the bare island, white rock cliffs wincingly bright even through his shades. He rubbed his temples, hangover still throbbing with the engines. They seemed to be taking a circuitous route toward the island, weaving closer in a looping course as the sailor they’d left onboard Nereid powered her up and snugged in closer behind the cutter.
“Siga, siga.” Slow and easy. Another sailor portside gestured up to the flying bridge, and they slowed again, edging starboard before making another sweeping curve and heading for a rocky breakwater where waves dashed themselves to foam against the cliff.
More shouts, gestures, and they were aiming for a narrow entrance to what looked like a cove.
Peter moved to the port rail, craned over the side, couldn’t see anything darker in the deep purple-blues. But that itchy sixth sense was prickling his back again, and he could feel them down there. Mines. He closed his eyes, fought off a shudder.
“Efthia,” the sailor was calling out. Straight ahead.
Peter blinked. They were easing through the cut in the breakwater that nearly sealed off a circular cove, into a fishing harbor where gulls swooped and cried. He took a deep breath of the fresh salt breeze.
Vaulting over the side and onto the concrete quay before the cutter touched the bumpers, he raised his eyebrows and gave a humorous shrug toward Leeza for the benefit of the guards on board. Still silent, they gripped their automatics—looked like Chinese design recycled plastic—but didn’t stop him as he grabbed a line and grinned at the sleepy-looking reception committee in blue uniforms. Probably hauled out of siesta.
“Kali spera.” He waved an arm at the men grappling lines. “Siga, siga.” He directed, helped them snug bobbing Nereid up against rotting tires.
He took another breath of hot air spiced now with the smell of fish and tar. Sun glared off the quay, shattered across the clear turquoise cove and narrow stony shingle, blazed over stark cliffs and the rock slope zigzagged by a goat path. He tilted his face, tracing the trail up to a gleam of windows. White walls and blue-painted balconies of a low villa shimmered in an impossible patch of green. Mirage?
Above it, at the top of the cliff and real enough, a missile launcher hunkered.
He swiped his forearm over his face, sweating now in the sheltered cove, and turned back to help secure the boat.
One of the guards stayed beside him, young pallikar swaggering with his pistol and the plain blue uniform he’d gussied up with a gold sash, cool as long as everybody kept up the pecking order. That was fine with Peter. He played along, politely greeting the young boys and sunbaked old men in baggy pants and cracked boots who wandered over from the taverna at the head of the quay.
He shot a look up at the cutter deck. Conreid had given up on whining, cajoling, and threatening. She slouched against the cabin in a strip of shade, arms crossed, face hidden by a floppy straw hat, one sandalled foot jigging as she ignored the sailors eyeing her skintight tank top and pants. Lucky it wasn’t the Prophet boys picked them up. Though her outfit would have been a big hit in the slaver souks.
She raised her face and he grinned, giving her a mocking salute. She glared and lowered the hat.
A shout from the head of the quay. Hubbub, voices raised, dogs and chickens scattering, a goat jumping down onto the beach. The crowd broke apart as a stocky middle-aged man strode past the small docked caiques at the head of more men in blue. Peter’s audience deserted him, swarming for the big cheese.
The man nodded and said a few words to the old-timers, then came on toward Nereid. He wore dark slacks and a white silk shirt open at the neck, plain but expensive, with a gold chain peeking out and a blue gem the size of a grape on his pinky. His gray hair was thick and wiry, face weathered brown, dark eyes flanking a high-bridged beak of a nose steady on Peter.
The soldiers moved in to back him up. Peter noted the holstered automatics, the embroidered insignia with the squared zigzag, the childish bright additions like a chrome-yellow cap, a multi-colored woven belt, one moth-eaten fringy epaulet, even a pair of shiny purple disco socks. But they rearranged themselves efficiently behind their leader, eyes alert on Peter.
Before he could start his song and dance, there was a tussle on the deck above.
Ms. Conreid pushed through the guards. “Carajo! Just let me—”
Hands grabbed her. A kick and a curse, and the neon-pink legs strode down the gangplank. The leader turned with a raised eyebrow, shaking his head at a soldier who moved to stop her. He flicked a contemptuous eye over her outfit.
She clapped a pale hand over her hat as a gust off the cove licked past. “Take me to Ariadne Demodakis.”
At the name, the man’s face went from scornful to stone cold. He gestured sharply at the soldiers, and two in the back with rifles stepped forward, bringing them up into ready position as two more reached for Conreid, pulling her back. The leader turned his back dismissively on the woman, eyes locking on Peter with new hostility. The rifles came around to bear on him, along with a row of automatics from the cutter deck.
Sweat broke out on his back. He shot a furious glare at Conreid. Smiling innocuously at the Greek honcho, he spread his open palms. “Now wait. We’re all reasonable men, right?” He gestured toward tethered Nereid. “You can see, I’m just a businessman, hired to bring the lady here.”
“With what purpose?” the man replied in Greek.
Peter shifted gears and language. “Kali spera.” He bowed his head a polite fraction. “We apologize for the. . . .” He searched for the word, his Greek vocabulary pretty basic. “For the unwelcome arrival. The lady is a journalist, who assures me she has permission to see Ariadne Demodakis.” He hoped that came out right. “Could we speak in English, Kyrie . . . ?”
The man didn’t supply a name. “In these islands, we speak Greek.” He glanced back at Conreid, who was looking like she might be warming up for another outburst.
Peter shook his head at her, made a cutting motion.
The Greek turned back to him. “You have violated our borders. We will confiscate your boat.”
“Now, wait—” Peter caught himself, spread his palms. “Can we discuss options?” Have to get him into the marketplace mode, most Greeks loved bartering.
“I see little of value you have to offer us, Kyrie . . . ?”
“Mitchell. Peter Mitchell.” Peter stuck out his hand. “Kyrie . . . ?”
“So. American?” The man ignored his hand, again refusing to supply a name, blatantly defying Greek courtesy. Not good. “A spy, no doubt, for the Turks.” He tilted his head contemptuously toward Nereid, and the missile launcher the sailors had revealed beneath its net camouflage. “They and their Russian allies used such trickery in the last war, and they think we’ll believe these fishing nets now?”
Peter raised his hands. “It was confiscated during the war. I . . . acquired it later.”
“Stolen? So you’re a thief as well as a spy.”
The sweat was drenching Peter’s back now, a trickle running down his face. “All right. I stole the boat, but I figured the Feds owed me. They . . .” He broke back into English. “They were screwing me over on my medical discharge, I’d paid my dues twice over, me and everyone else in that fiasco at Sinai—” He bit it off, blew out a breath.
“Now we make progress.” The man responded still in Greek. “So we see here an American who has invaded our waters, a smuggler defying international law, a soldier absent without leave, and a thief. And you want to negotiate with us?”
“Sailor,” Peter offered faintly. “Navy.”
Was that finally a flicker of a smile? “I see. Very well, Peter Mitchell, what was your specialty in the military service?”
The man studied him. “So. We may have a use for you, after all, in the Mediterranean League. We’re expanding the patrols on our shipping lanes, and our men need training.” He eyed Nereid again. “Possibly this old spy vessel could be useful, as well, if you prove we can trust you.”
“No, no.” Peter shook his head. “I’m done with the military.”
“Very well, it’s your decision.” He gestured toward the nearest soldier, barked out a quick order Peter couldn’t follow, but the soldier stepped over and put his pistol to Peter’s head, clarifying the whole situation. Things were going downhill fast. “We execute spies in these islands.” He nodded at the soldier and started to turn away.
“Stop! Stomat!” Peter blurted. “Okay. You . . . persuaded me.”
Again the flicker of a smile. “A wise decision. We will talk later.” He gestured to the soldier, who lowered his pistol.
Peter sagged in relief.
The Greek started back up the quay, then paused in front of Leeza, still held by her guards, her pale eyes wide, rolling like a startled colt’s from Peter to the honcho. “Magdalena.” Whore. He shook his head and said something to the guards, who started to drag her back toward the cutter gangplank.
“No!” Her face suddenly morphed from terror to rage. “Hands off, you gorillas!” Insanely, the twit was struggling again, kicking, jerking forward and wrenching an arm free to grab the head man’s arm as the soldiers dragged her back and the man barked an order.
Conreid hung on. “Listen, bub, don’t pull this machismo on me. This is Leeza Conreid you’re talking to. I need to see Ariadne, and you better take me to her.” She waggled her fingers in front of his face. Sunlight caught a thick, engraved platinum ring she hadn’t been wearing onboard, kindled the facets of a big sapphire, and flung blue sparks.
Peter blinked. The boss was grasping Leeza’s wrist and scrutinizing the setting of her ring.
The identical ring on the man’s finger caught the sun, gem flaring cobalt blue. His jaw clamped down hard, muscle jumping as he glared at her. He dropped her hand and swung away, gesturing sharply at his men and stalking off down the quay toward the steep path leading up to the villa.
Peter stood staring as the uniforms reformed to flank Ms. Conreid and escort her after their leader. She paused to smirk over her shoulder, hand flashing sharp blue as she gave him her own mocking salute.
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